by John P. Pratt
Sat 10 July 2004
It has been proposed that the ancient star constellations are not simply random musings of shepherds with too much time on their hands, but rather a detailed revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to antediluvian prophets. That whole thesis, often called the "Gospel in the Stars" and even abbreviated GIS, is reviewed with commentary elsewhere on my website at "Review of Gospel in the Stars." Those not familiar with the evidence favoring this startling conjecture should probably read that first in order better to understand the objections to the theory. Suffice it to say that when I examined the evidence, as a PhD in modern astronomy, a student of ancient wisdom, and as a practicing Christian, I have found more evidence favoring the proposal than against it. I now accept the overall concept in spite of several reservations.
Because several objections and questions have been raised concerning the proposal, I thought it worthwhile to rephrase those questions, and attempt to respond to them here in a question (Q) and answer (A) format. One can easily find other summaries of the theory, and most of these issues by simply searching the internet with the key words "gospel" and "constellations."
Q1. There is no clear Biblical support for this speculation, so how could this theory be true if it is not mentioned at all in the Bible?
A. This is by far the most common objection, and one whole web page was nothing more than restating this complaint about a dozen times. Let me divide this question into two parts: 1) there is no Biblical support, and 2) doesn't that lack of evidence negate the entire theory?
To say there is no supporting evidence at all in the Bible is to simply ignore many of the arguments used in the GIS theory. But I would agree that the evidence is mostly implied or secondary. If it were obvious, then we would all have known about this long ago. But an absence of evidence is not evidence for absence. That is, just because the Bible doesn't explicitly talk about it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There are many truths not mentioned in the Bible, even concerning the gospel.
Q2. What about the many explicit injunctions to avoid looking to the "signs of heaven" (such as Jer. 10:2)? Isn't the Bible adamant that we should avoid anything like astrology?
A. To me this ties into the last question. It appears that often when ancient people learned about the gospel in the stars, they began to worship the stars themselves, which missed the whole point of being reminded of Christ. So God gave Israel commandments to avoid looking at the heavens, and to me that explains the lack of explicit detail about the constellations in the Bible. That knowledge became somewhat secret, to protect against idolatry.
Q3. Isn't this whole idea superfluous to the scriptures? Don't we have the gospel contained in the Bible, so that it is a waste of time to be searching for new insights in the stars?
A. Anyone who has slept out under a dark, moonless sky cannot help but be impressed with the majesty of the universe. Even the atheist is awestruck, but the believer cannot help but see the hand of the Creator. What more inspiring "frosting on the cake" could be added than to have those stars testify of the entire gospel story, including the coming of Christ to overcome both sin and death, and to give us hope in seeing the Second Coming of Christ and the final overcoming of evil?
Q4. If the constellations contain a revelation, would that revelation be classified as a "natural" revelation (such as creations in nature testifying of a Creator) or a "special" revelation (as words delivered by an angel)?
A. Although these books may not address this issue, my personal answer is that it is clearly a special revelation. The Book of Enoch states that an angel revealed the constellations to Enoch. Rolleston explicitly discounts that source as dubious, but I accept it as an authentic source. But even without that source, it would have to have been a special revelation because those pictures just are not there for anyone to see without a lot of instruction. Ask anyone who has either taught astronomy, or who has tried to find the constellations themselves.
Q5. If Adam was aware of these constellations, then wouldn't he have been able to see, even before the Fall, that he could be saved?
A. No, the special revelation of the meaning of these constellations came well after the Fall.
Q6. Is this whole speculation so subjective as to be worthless? Don't the GIS supporters merely force their own Christian interpretations on a bunch of pagan pictures? The written revelation in the Bible seems much less open to private interpretation and much more reliable.
A. There does appear to be a lot of subjectivity in the whole theory, which is one of the biggest weaknesses to me. There are clearly depictions of good conquering evil, but do they really refer to Christ just because he indeed is the biggest hero of all time by conquering death and hell? I have studied this subject for two decades and have published very little on it, because I do not feel I understand many of the symbols. For example, one of the constellations included is the "cross." Is the cross a symbol of good or of evil? Today, it has become a symbol of good, representing Christianity. But in the scriptures, it seems to be more a symbol of pain and suffering, as in "Take up your cross and follow me" (Mat. 16:24). In one sense it represented one of the most diabolical forms of torture ever invented, clearly a tool of Satan. Similarly with the balance, the arrow and many of the other stellar figures. But notwithstanding all of the subjectivity, that does not negate the whole theory; it is simply a weakness which has to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Q7. Okay, suppose there was an ancient revelation which was lost. How has it been restored? Has any ancient document been found explaining this supposed connection of the constellations to the gospel?
A. Yes, one principal document does explain at least some of the ideas. It is not a document which was lost and then rediscovered, but just one that has been so overlooked that I could not find an English translation of it at all. It is the work of Albumazar, a non-Christian Arab astronomer of about AD 850. It is upon his list of the original 48 constellations that Rolleston based her reckoning.
Q8. Different ancient cultures saw very different figures in the stars. How can you pick out the one "true" set, or even suggest that there was one?
A. To me that was one of the major contributions of Rolleston: to pick out the best list of all those at hand. Just because there is a lot of confusion about many Biblical topics, such as whether to baptize by immersion or sprinkling, does not mean that there is no correct method. Similarly, just because there is confusion about what the original set of constellations was, or even if there was an original set, does not mean that there was no such set.
Q9. Three of the 48 constellations differ from the classical 48 of the Greeks. Didn't Rolleston simply replace the three that didn't fit her theory with 3 others which did?
A. She did not pick and choose constellations, but she did have the liberty to pick one entire ancient set. The one of the Greeks has seemingly meaningless constellations like the Triangle, whereas the clearly older set of the Persians all seemed to fit the theory well. It is to her credit that she stuck tenaciously with the Persian set, including the order.
Q10. One of the three substituted constellations is the Southern Cross, and much fuss is made that it had dropped out of sight by the time of Ptolemy because of the precession of the equinoxes, so he replaced it with another constellation of his own making. Is that true? And was it really known before the time of the Greeks?
A. Precession indeed was causing the cross to disappear at that time, but Ptolemy included some of its stars in his catalog as part of the Centaur. Both Rolleston and Seiss put forth compelling arguments that the cross indeed was a constellation known to the ancients. Seiss notes in his answers to criticisms at the end of the book that both Albumazar and Aben Ezra explicitly list it and state that it was in the form of a cross. And it looks as though Ptolemy may have added the constellation Equuleus (Little Horse) because it was not mentioned by his predessor Aratus.
Q11. Another of the substituted constellations is "Coma" which GIS supporters claim was originally a virgin holding her "desired" infant, which represented the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. But when I look in that area of sky, there are not enough bright stars to make a constellation. Is there any other evidence that such a constellation really existed?
A. That was a big question in my mind, which led me to look above the constellation of Coma Berenices and consider also the brighter stars of Canes Venatici. It contains the star Cor Caroli, which is one of the brightest stars listed by Ptolemy and not included in any constellation. I believe that the GIS proposal of identifying the Egyptian and Persian constellation is correct, and that the Egyptian figure matches the sky very well when the stars of Canes Venatici are included. The details of my proposed reconstruction of the original constellation have been published in the article "Lost Constellation Testifies of Christ."
Q12. Many of the constellations have been modified, even by the ancients. For example the Greek astronomer Ptolemy explicitly stated that he had done so, even since the time of Hipparchus, only a few centuries earlier. So how can you take any of these figures seriously, or propose that they date back to antediluvian times?
A. That was a serious doubt in my mind as I began this study some two decades ago. But there is an answer, which should give us great cause to rejoice that these figures have not been hopelessly lost. Supposing that the original constellation set was indeed revealed to Enoch, it is not hard to see how either a sphere with the pictures could have been preserved by Noah during the Flood, or that they could be revealed again to Abraham. There are strong traditions that Abraham transmitted this information to the Egyptians, who treated it as sacred and carefully preserved it. Then there is a tradition that Eudoxus of Greece obtained a celestial globe from a temple in Egypt which became the basis of Greek astronomy. Even though we have lost his work, the globe was described by the poet Aratus in detail, and that poem describes the constellations much as we have them today. It is true that the Greek astronomers did not treat the constellations with great reverence, and did indeed change a few star positions in the figures to suit their own artistic eye. But in most cases they noted the change, proud of their improvements. Then astronomy stopped for nearly a thousand years, and Ptolemy's star catalog became the standard during the renaissance. Those constellations in turn are still used today, almost unchanged, so, miraculously, there is a good chance that the familiar constellations may actually date all the way back to the times of Enoch.
Q13. Isn't this tracing constellations back to the distant past all wishful thinking? Don't the constellations date only to the time of the Greeks?
A. The constellations can be scientifically dated by noting that the vacant part of the ancient sky was the area where the stars never rose above the horizon. That analysis leads to a date of about 2700 BC and a latitude of 36° north. Actually there are two other parts to the method, which I explain in "Scientifically Dating the Constellations."
A. The zodiac of Dendera is centered on the north celestial pole, and any such projection can be dated by measuring where the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator. Many researchers have used that method to date the time shown on the map to be from 700-1600 BC (the circles are not well defined, so there is much uncertainty). I have not read that statement by Neugebauer and Parker, but they both were excellent scholars and well acquainted with these elementary principles of astronomy. What they must have meant is that there is much archaeological evidence that the temple was constructed in the first century BC (with which GIS agrees), and hence the zodiac (which indicates a much earlier time) cannot be used to date the erection of the building.
Q15. The GIS supporters make a big deal of the scriptures that state that God named and numbered the stars (Psalms 147:4, Isaiah 40:26), and they expand on that to conclude that he also created the constellation figures. Even though God might call a constellation by name, such as Orion (Job 9:9, 38:31), surely he would not name the constellations after such despicable characters as formed the Greek pantheon. Doesn't the scripture mean that God used human nomenclature to be understood?
A. It is really amusing to see the detractors of GIS grapple with these two scriptures which explicitly state the God named and numbered the stars. To me they mean just what they say, and the reader should ask himself why God would do that, and then bother to tell us about it? In any case, they were clearly named and numbered long before Greek myths were written, so the myths came from the stars and not the other way around.
Q16. Both Seiss and Bullinger, and all modern exponents of this theory depend totally on Rolleston's translations of the ancient star names. How trustworthy are her translations?
A. Most of them are terrible and to me this is by far the weakest part of the entire theory. The problem is that she assumed that all the names had Hebrew origins and were simply transliterated, rather than translated, into other languages. That just isn't true, so I'd recommend ignoring all of her translations.
Q17. If the star name translations are questionable, doesn't that shake the foundation of the entire theory?
A. No, because they were just used for filling in details, such as the foot of the Serpent Bearer having been stung by the Scorpion. Much of the theory was first discovered by simply noticing how many of the celestial figures contain the same imagery found in the scriptures. For example there are four different heroes crushing the heads of four enemies, reminiscent of the great promise given to Eve that her seed would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The drama of good conquering evil is found throughout, with a large number of serpents as clear images of evil. When one pursues the issue below the surface, the parallels with the scriptures become striking, such as the Fishes (common symbol for the early Christian Church) being bound by the "bands of death" to the Sea Monster, with the Ram's leg apparently breaking those bands. None of this imagery depends on the star name translations.
Q18. What about her translation of Mazzaroth (Job 38:32) to mean "constellations"? Even though "the twelve signs" is the reading in the margin of the King James Version, isn't that a subject of debate?
A. Yes it is debated, but most translators agree that it refers to one or more constellations. The New American Standard Bible translates it as "a constellation." But this is a tiny point, which doesn't matter much. It certainly is not a foundation stone of the theory.
Q19. Some of the constellations appear to be out of sequence. Doesn't that negate the entire theory? After all, if these figures came from God, we would expect them to be perfect.
A. I agree that some of them appear in a surprising sequence, but we may only be seeing part of the picture. It has led me to question whether or not the Persian set and order are indeed the originals. More research needs to be done in this area. But just because a few might appear to be out of order does not destroy the whole theory, it merely suggests that some modifications might be needed.
In conclusion, to me there is enough good evidence to accept the overall theory, even though many of the details, and especially the translation of star names, need a lot of work.